Monday's episode of Castle is makin' like Law and Order and ripping its plot from the headlines! Well, sort of. In "The Late Shaft," Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) investigate the death of an aging late-night talk show host named Bobby Mann, played by guest-star Tom Bergeron. Fred Willard also guest-stars, as Mann's sidekick, Hank McPhee. Both men are busy these days; Bergeron has hosted Dancing with the Stars since 2005 and Willard recently played Phil Dunphy's (Ty Burrell) dad on Modern Family. We spoke to Bergeron and Willard about their upcoming—and timely—roles on Castle.
What was it like to "play dead"?
One of my gym buddies is Hilary Swank. I said, "Okay, I'm going to go shoot a death scene. I should ask a two-time Oscar winner what I should do." ...And she said, "Don't drink coffee." I said, "That's it? Two Oscars, that's all I get?" She said, "Yeah, you don't want to look jittery!"
So I thought I was being very good about being dead until I went back to the studio last week to record some additional dialogue, and the guys in the control room said, "Oh, we just did a dead pass on you!" ... Everybody who plays dead, well, sometimes they hold their breath and it's great, but every so often you see a little vein in the neck twitch or the nostrils flare, so they digitally go over your entire body and make sure you're dead! Apparently my dead acting isn't as good as I thought it was. It's CGI-enhanced. I would have been breathing a lot more had I known I was going to get a dead pass!
What's the difference between a hosting gig and an acting gig?
It's a matter of time. The hosting I do, certainly on Dancing, is live, and it focuses your attention. You know there's no second take. You know you have to listen and be completely aware. The discipline in being with [Castle] for a couple of days and knowing how they shoot episodic shows and how they pace themselves—I mean, they work such long days. When we shot the talk-show scene, Nathan wasn't feeling well, so I was watching him conserve his energy and shut down a little bit, and then we'd shoot and boom! He'd be back and completely healthy [as] Rick Castle. It's amazing to me, the long days that they take to shoot that. You do the scene however many times, and from different angles and all that. With Dancing, I'm in at 8 and I'm out at 10 and I'm having a martini by 10:30.
Are you a
Yes! While I was shooting that episode, coincidentally I hosted a tribute to the cast and creators at the Paley Center for the Media. So I got to trot out my somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of the show that night.
Which late-night host does Bobby Mann resemble?
The way Bobby Mann is depicted, he's been on forever. And the network is trying to move him out because his demos are getting older. That was one of the things that [Johnny] Carson was facing when Leno's people were itching to get in. There are touches, little plot elements, that will evoke things that have been going on recently. I think [Bobby] is a little bit of all of those people.
What's your take on the Jay-Conan debacle?
In all honesty, I thought Conan never got a fair shot. That ten o'clock Leno show was just this dark cloud hanging over Conan's chances to really establish The Tonight Show. I thought it was all really unfortunate.
Which late-night sidekick does Hank McPhee resemble?
In the back of my mind, it was always Ed McMahon. No matter what, the ultimate sidekick is always Ed McMahon. But I tried to stay away from the "Hey-oooo!" sort of thing. [Hank's] got a little of myself, and a little bit of a sidekick who had been a friend for 30 years.
Were you able to improvise any of your lines?
No. And that was kind of refreshing, too. I changed a few lines just a little... but they never said, "Put this in your own words" or "Add to this scene." I found the writing very good. The humor came from the two leads, Nathan and Stana. Nathan's got a very likable character. A bit of a buffoon, always saying the wrong thing or putting his foot in his mouth. There was a humor through the whole thing, but it didn't come from me, which was interesting.
Are you a Castle fan?
Yes, I've become quite a fan. They screened one of the episodes during our lunch hour, and I said, "Man, this is like an old-fashioned movie, like I used to see as a kid with the big ending and the cliffhanger!
What's was it like to play Phil Dunphy's dad on Modern Family?
I think it's great. I think Ty Burrell is wonderful. I used to laugh at him on Back to You, the old Kelsey Grammer series we were on two years ago. And the cast is wonderful. That's just a funny show. It's completely different. There, you try to be funny, and take on a humorous character. And they let you improvise; in fact, it's almost mandatory. They'll shoot it a few ways, and by the third or fourth take, you start to loosen up the lines and put in ad-libs, and then after about the fourth take they'll say, "Okay, let's just get off the book. Do whatever you want." And I said, I thought that's what we were doing the last couple of takes!"
Are you returning to Modern Family?
I think so. If they can figure out how to get [my character] from Florida to wherever they are. I suggested that we do an episode where the family goes to Disney World. And I understand that they went to Florida and didn't take dad! So that kind of hurt me. Maybe they'll go to Florida. Ty Burrell loved that idea.
What other shows would you like to be on?
I'm a big fan of 30 Rock. I think that's such a smart show, and so showbiz-y. And I love Mad Men. I guess I'd have to be a boss or a businessman. Another one is Larry David's show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'd want to go on as myself. I don't think I'd want to play a character. It's great to see Richard Lewis or Ted Danson come on as themselves and make fun of themselves. I also love The Soup, Joel McHale's show. I'm not so sure I'd want to be on that, though, because he makes fun of people. I'd rather he avoid me as the target. Even people who get socked tend to come on! I think it keeps TV honest.